Ever have one of those lifetimes? Yeah, me, too. This has definitely been one of ’em.
Ohhhhhhhh! (Add to that a shaking of the head and, oh, sure, even a stomping of the feet for good measure.) Wasn’t there supposed to be something in particular I was supposed to be doing this particular day, this particular week, this particular month, this particular year, this particular life? Whatever it was, I’d lost track of it.
I’d lost track of it, kind of…that is, until she died. Then everything stopped swirling and settled at the bottom of the snowglobe that was my life. Slowly, over a year or so, it all became crystal clear.
Hi. Can we talk? Actually, can I just babble to you? That’s kind of what I do, babble and ramble—but it’s a good kind of babbling and rambling, I promise. Thanks.
My name is Trish. I’m lucky enough to call myself an actor and actually be able to name some big movies when new introductions inevitably ask, “Would I have seen you in anything?” My BFF—the bestest of bestest friends in the history of bestest, practically my sister—killed herself. I didn’t write this as a downer, though…in fact, quite the opposite. Hollywood is one of the toughest towns to be successful in. It’s crazy here. But, then, so am I. This wild place and I are a great match, then.
In addition to telling you a story, I want to share what life is like here—the good, the bad, the fun, the not-so-pretty. It’s more of a dramedy, a look at how lovably wacky we humans are.
When I was thinking about what to call my little tale here, I thought of The Valley of the Happy People—Not! But I didn’t want to have a big, fat negative on the cover that literally represents my life.
A screenwriting professor once told the class I attended, “You can’t have a story called The Valley of the Happy People. No one would watch a movie where all the characters get along and are oh-so-happy-and-perfect. A story is drama, and drama needs conflict to show contrast. Characters need to grow—they have to start out one way, go through the hero’s journey, and come out transformed.”
In other words, screenplays are just like this life we have here. Well, hopefully….as in hopefully we come out transformed. Unless we die first. But then that’s transformation, too.
I guess we can’t get it wrong, really. (I’m not talking to murderers and rapists, etc. here—they get it wrong.)
Every movie has a backstory, as they call it in “the industry”—as if there’s only one industry. They call LA “the coast,” too, as if there’s only one coast. Interesting. Anyway, here’s the backstory for my particular movie, my life.
You know the first line from A Tale of Two Cities? “They were the best of times, they were the worst of times.” Maybe that was most people’s childhoods, because that’s what life is, a juxtaposition of tragedy and greatness, heartbreak and heartsongs. Funny—that’s what movies are….a juxtaposition of scenes that tell a story, full of tragedy and greatness, heartbreak and heartsongs. Wow…can you imagine how much more dramatic our lives would be if we could slow down the action and add dramatic music and the odd long, meaningful glance or two?
Oh, sorry. Back to my childhood. Okay, while it was nowhere near as awful as the French Revolution must’ve been, it was the best and the worst of times on a less dramatic level. No one on my quiet street was sent to a guillotine, but my early years did involve sickness and death and then more sickness. I have two brothers, and my younger brother was born with a neurological condition. Instead of watching him grow up, we had to watch him grow sicker and sicker, disintegrating before our eyes. I still say I have two brothers because he’s still my brother, at least in my heart if not in the world.
I was young when he died, so for most of my life I figured I was too young to really get it. Yeah….nice try. We get it—whatever “it” is that’s happening around us—from conception. But life is also made up of everything in between the great moments and the tragedies, too. My childhood also had a lot of ish: strange-ish, tough-ish, okay-ish. Maybe a little this, maybe a little that.
I grew up in the middle of the Midwest, the middle child in a middle-class family. All right, Wisconsin is in the upper Midwest, but still—the middle. We’re near the middle of the North American continent, so that’s pretty middle. That was me: right smack dab in the middle of the middle. Even my grades were in the middle, at least they were through middle school. I was the middle one picked for teams in gym class. I suppose if I’d put a little oomph into anything, I would’ve been higher than the middle. But I didn’t….I didn’t discover the power of oomph until I got so ugly that oomph was the only thing that would save me.
My family was Catholic in a land of Lutherans—at least in my little corner of the world. Catholics make up a pretty high percentage of Wisconsinites who consider themselves religious, along with Lutherans, but we were surrounded just by Lutherans for some reason…Large Lutherans, at that. I don’t mean fat, necessarily—they were tall, too. Wisconsin is one of the most German-American states in the country. But we had the messy Irish home in the midst of these tidy Germans. Ugh.
My parents could’ve posed for American Gothic—you know, that painting of the farmer with the pitchfork and a woman who looks to be his wife? Actually, it turns out she might be his daughter. Regardless, my mother had an uncanny resemblance to her, but airbrushed with a slight semblance of refinement. My father, who started the marriage-and-family thing late in his life, was even more dour than that farmer…now that’s dour! My older brother was a younger rendition of the two of them combined. My younger brother was a cutie pie. I often wonder what he would’ve looked like, and sometimes when I’d spot a teenager or young man at the age he would’ve been with the looks he might’ve had, I impulsively wanted to hug the stranger.
My best friend was Jenni—complete with the circle over the i. We couldn’t stand each other. I hear you, and yes, you’re right, I probably shouldn’t have been friends with her. It was a small town, though. There weren’t too many friends to be had. What was even worse was she was BFFs with Cheryl, too, and they would make endless fun of me. I didn’t realize then that that was the only thing they had in common. If they didn’t have me to make fun of, they would’ve had nothing else to talk about—or so they might’ve thought. Oh, sure, everyone needs a hobby.
To be fair, I gave them some great ammunition. I had this crazy red hair that was... So. Curly. Remember Frieda from Charlie Brown, the one with the naturally curly hair? Mine was Frieda’s on steroids and then put into a light socket. We didn’t know where it came from—the curly part, anyway.
Throughout my childhood, especially when I was with the rest of my brown-haired family, people would ask, “Where did you get your red hair?” What a crazy question!
“From both of her grandmothers,” my mother would answer.
“From my head,” I started to answer when my mother was out of earshot.
And we haven’t even mentioned freckles yet. I had so many that one night at a sleepover, when my buddies tried to count how many I had in one square inch, they gave up after a hundred. They played connect the dots instead. I traveled through Viet Nam once, and people would rub my arm—to see if those freaky freckles were lumpy, I guess. I asked a Vietnamese friend how I could call freckles “kisses from the sun.” He told me that unfortunately the poetry would be lost in the translation. Oh, well.
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